To say that screenwriter Daniel Waters has had an "up and down" career would be a very accurate observation. After penning the cult classic comedy that is Heathers he moved on to The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (ugh) and Hudson Hawk (whoa) before earning a credit on the excellent Batman Returns. Then he co-wrote Demolition Man, vanished for eight years, and made a small comeback with an indie comedy called Happy Campers, the movie that marked his directorial debut. So which Waters would show up in Sex and Death 101? Well, let's just say we're not nearly in Heathers territory, but Waters' latest represents his very best work in a very long time.
The plot is a cleverly simple one: A likable ladies' man receives a list of names -- all the women he's ever slept with! At first it seems like a prank played by one of Roderick's wise-ass buddies, but get this: The list also includes the names of every woman that Roderick Blank (Simon Baker) WILL sleep with! Like, for the rest of his life! Now, imagine if you received an email telling you the name of every sex partner you'll ever have ... precisely what would that DO to your approach to romance? If you meet a nice sweetie -- but she's not on the list -- what would you do? Waters dives into all the possibilities your sex-crazed mind could create, but the "high concept" plot isn't enough for the filmmaker. We're also treated to a darkly amusing subplot about a female serial killer called Death Nell (Winona Ryder) who exacts a lot of revenge on some of the sleazier men of the city. Of course the two plotlines converge, quite satisfyingly I might add, during a third act plot twist.
It's all quite a bit of adult-oriented fun. So while Sex and Death 101 is a very fine ensemble piece, the star of the show is Waters' brisk and multi-faceted screenplay. The movie juggles romantic comedy, dark humor, sex farce and slight slapstick with seldom a misstep, resulting in a surprisingly unpredictable flick that works on a small variety of levels. And yes, the cast helps out a whole lot.
Simon Baker, a fine actor but not one generally known for comedy, makes with the charm and the occasional pratfall, and creates a sex-hungry playboy character who's still robustly affable. Winona Ryder contributes some of her best stuff in years, and as Roderick's wise-ass assistant, Mindy Cohn delivers chuckles at an unexpectedly fast pace. (Yes, that Mindy Cohn.) Leslie Bibb and Julie Bowen make the strongest impression among the (many) ladies of the cast, but there's also some excellent support work from the likes of Neil Flynn, Marshall Bell, Frances Fisher -- and (especially!) Natassia Malthe and Pollyanna McIntosh as a pair of world-famous party-girl lesbian authors. (And wow is Sophie Monk sexy.)
Unapologetically sexy, oddly unpredictable and ultimately kinda (yes) sweet, Sex and Death 101 is just a solid little comedy that snuck up on me and showed me a really good time. Plus it's got some great supporting shtick from Patton Oswalt -- and that guy just cracks me up.